Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

ANALYZE THIS (1999) *** 1/2

Directed by Harold Ramis. Written by Peter Tolan, Ramis, Kenneth Lonergan, based on a story by Lonergan and Tolan. Photography, Stuart Dryburgh. Editing, Christopher Tellefsen. Production design,Wynn Thomas. Music, Howard Shore. Produced by Paula Weinstein & Jane Rosenthal. Cast : Robert De Niro (Paul Vitti), Billy Crystal (Ben Sobel), Lisa Kudrow (Laura MacNamara), Joe Viterelli (Jelly), Chazz Palminteri (Primo Sindone), Bill Macy (Isaac Sobel), et al  A Warners release. 110 minutes. R (language, violence, sexual situations)


My favorite Sylvester Stallone picture is Oscar (by John Landis, 1991), a free remake of a Gallic movie, itself adapted from a French play.

What does this got to do with the price of eggs? you'll ask. Quite a bit. Analyze This bears no rleation to Stallone, but it's in the same genre --farces about the Mob. And now it's my favorite Billy Crystal performance. I can't say "Billy Crystal movie" since Billy, as psychotherapist Dr.Ben Sobel, plays straight-man (sort of), sounding-board and hapless consultant to Robert De Niro's mobster capo Paul Vitti. And you know that  De Niro is a movie giant who is always the focus of his picture and of our attention.

Here, De Niro, elastictically using his talents, his face, his Italian-American speech and body language, is very, very funny. So is Crystal. So is everyone else, from supporting to tiny roles

The film was written with clockwork precision, a must for any successful farce. Tightly scripted and directed, it does not indulge in fillers, irrelevancies, overly broad effects or pratfalls. Director-co-writer Harold Ramis has been an actor, a scripter, or both in many pictures, but has directed just seven, starting with  Caddyshack (1980) then on to National Lampoon's Vacation, Club Paradise, Groundhog Day, Stuart Saves his Family, and Multiplicity (1996). People's reactions to humor are, of course, imponderables, as varied  and unpredictable as their taste for food, but for me Analyze This is Ramis's funniest movie.

It opens with a reminder of the famous gathering of vultures at Apalachin in 1957, where the heads of Mafia families met to discuss territories, alliances and ways to improve their profitability.

Cut to the contemporary Mafia, in which Paul Vitti is one of the biggest capos in the East. When Vitti (which sounds like Gotti)  hesitates to exterminate a bad guy (there are good and bad guys among the bad guys) and finds himself crying and going through strange depressions, heart trouble is suspected.

In  ways that  are like a comically devious daisy-chain, Vitti gets told at a hospital's emergency ward that he suffers from panic or anxiety syndromes. He repays the diagnosing doctor by roughing him up. Hence the title Analyze THIS --which could have been better.

Crystal is shown in a carefully dosaged number of times --not too many, not too few -- in  highly amusing situations with patients. The set-ups are takeoffs of therapists and the therapied, but with kernels of truth --like cartoons in the New Yorker.

The six degrees of separation theory works well. The links lead Vitti to Dr. Sobel and the main subject is now reached. Uneasy, uncomfortable, even scared, Sobel would like to get rid of his gangland client, but in spite of misunderstandings and mutual bewilderments, an odd-couple relationship results. (Among other things Vitti does not grasp, or else misinterprets Sobel, his theories, his "shocking" Freudianism or high-falutin' words like "closure").

Sobel's Jewishness is played up, but gently. So is the cameo part of Sobel's father, the senior Dr. Sobel, also a shrink plus best-selling author who is all wrapped up in himself and his book tour. (Bill Macy does a terrific job of his few minutes).Vitti's Italian-American-Mafiosity is played up too, in his case with a vengeance.

Taking along his fat, witty teen-ager son, the divorced Sobel goes to Florida for his  wedding with blonde WASP TV reporter Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow). Guess who's coming to Florida too? Paul Vitti,who feels increasing need for Sobel; Paul's bodyguards; and assassins sent by a rival. an invreased  Comic mayhem and complications of all kinds follow.

The episodes cannot be revealed. There, and later back in New York,  the doings, sayings and one-liners are non-stop laugh-getters--but  almost never forced or cliched.Wisely too, the characterizations of the lesser people are held to a necessary minimum, without wasting time and dialogue on them. The filmmakers draw traits with economy. e.g. Vitti's sexual disfunctions, his mistress, his wife, his being a family man.

Throughout, there's an incessant, humorous, deftly-incorporated stream of allusions,  references and elements --sly, overt or rib-ticklingly blatant --not just to real mobsters but also to Mob movies of all types, from the Godfather saga to Woody Allen's Italian-Americans. Also parodied is De Niro himself in roles such as the dead-serious Jewish-American gangster in Once Upon a Time in America to Scorsese's blood-and-humor pictures of "made men" and beyond. De Niro basks in the spoofing of his own images as distorted by the mirror of comedy. Analyze This is at the same time an affectionate homage to the great flicks in both serious and light  gangster genres.

One might call this a high-concept movie:"Mafioso Boss and his reluctant Shrink bond." It's not that simple, nor is this just a one-gag film. The main joke is so cleverly concocted that it becomes the equivalent of a musical "tema con variazone." It maintains a light touch with its heavies and an unforced touch with a Billy Crystal who neither clowns nor mugs.
There are no hesitations, no dead spots, no disturbing naturalism. You know that a corpse in a car's trunk is a dummy, a joke; that the gunshots are a fantasy. There's also a lot of toned-down Mel Brooks in this picture.

In importance and screen time, the third role is Joe Viterelli's. As Jelly, he is Vitti's fat, pock-marked, adoring and obedient guard-dog, slow-witted but quick on the trigger. The fourth role goes to  Chazz Palminteri's Primo Sindone, Vitti's villainous rival.  Though  un- nuanced --he just huffs, puffs and plots--he comes in handy for the wrap-up.

If Crystal is second --but indispensable-- banana to De Niro, the Palminteri sub-plot is perfectly timed to bring Dr. Sobel to the fore. Soon after a hilarious, two-seconds gag involving Crystal with some puzzling holy water, Sobel goes to a neo-Apalachin gathering. There he  impersonates Vitti's new consigliere. His tough perfomance is a mega-comical howl.

Analyze This is no epic saga, explosive socially-conscious film, heart-rending drama,  message or avant-garde movie, but within its niche it's a great, unpretentious not-just-for-dummies work. It joins easily the roster of must-see screwball comedies.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel